Expert Offers 3 Ways to Be a Self-Advocate During Cancer Treatment


From education to second opinions, an expert offers tips to patients with cancer on self-advocacy, especially when it comes to fertility preservation.

Dr. Jennifer Young Pierce hopes that one day, every single person of reproductive age is asked about their fertility goals before starting cancer treatment. In the meantime, she recognizes the importance of patient advocacy and offered tips on how patients and their loved ones can ensure that they are getting the care they deserve.

“We want to make sure that (patients) have all the information so that when those recommendations (from clinicians) are made, they know that the door (to fertility preservation) is not being closed,” Pierce, a gynecologic oncologist at the Mitchell Cancer Institute in Mobile, Alabama, said in an interview with CURE®. “Our goal at a national level is to make sure that every person of reproductive age is asked about their fertility desires prior to any cancer treatment.”


I think first being educated — a lot of times patients find information (it) can be scary about knowing where to go for information on the internet. And so I think reliable sources that are using MDs are always helpful.

And I think that bringing someone with them (is helpful, too). A lot of times patients can feel very anxious from the moment they cross the threshold to the physician's office. And so bringing someone with them who's like, “actually don't you remember, you also wanted to talk to the doctor about this,” or even if the patient is too nervous to talk about it, that family member or friend can then advocate on their behalf … I had one (patient) I remember she was an older patient. But she said, “you know, my husband is sitting out in the waiting room, but my friend is in medicine and so, I brought her, because she'll know better how to explain it to me, but also how to advocate for me.” And I think that that is so important.

I think the other way (to advocate for yourself) that if you're feeling unheard, or you don't feel like you got enough information out of the visit, a second opinion is always a great idea. A lot of times for a second opinion, I recommend that a patient seek someone maybe with more specialization in the area of interest. So if they have a GI cancer, they saw regular medical oncologist, they might see a medical oncologist who specializes in GI cancers. Alternatively, if they see a physician who maybe didn't talk to them about reproductive (health), that they then seek a doctor who specializes in the treatment of patients with fertility preservation. So sometimes that can be found on the internet or through word of mouth. Sometimes calling a large academic medical center might be the right place to get that subspecialty second opinion and that doesn't mean you necessarily need to drive you know three hours from home to see that doctor for every cancer treatment, but rather that you feel heard you maybe hear the same thing over again or feel like you got your questions answered and then are able to find the right practice that fits your lifestyle for cancer treatment. But know that you got our question to be answered.

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